SNOW HILL — The range at Langmaid Road will once again be playing host to explosives testing. However, after the controversy surrounding Hardwire last fall, the Worcester County Commissioners are being extra sensitive to any concerns from nearby residents, especially in regards to forewarning before the September tests.
“I think we should do more than we have done in the past,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
The commission agreed and has instructed Fire Marshall Jeff McMahon to ask those hosting the course to notify all residents in the area prior to testing.
Stretching for three days, the latest explosives course will be taught by Dr. Kirk Yeagar, an expert with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The tests will focus on the detonation of small improvised explosive devices (IED) as well as several hours of response training. The first two days of the testing will be for bomb technicians and post-blast fire and explosive investigators.
The final day of testing will be open to first responders, public works departments and industry and commercial businesses that, “store and distribute chemicals associated with the improvised explosive course,” according to a memo from McMahon.
The range on Langmaid Road stirred controversy several months ago when Hardwire, a composite armor systems designer, approached the county looking for permission to test their products at the site. Because they build armor for combat vehicles, those tests would include some significant explosions.
Such a large public outcry arose over Hardwire testing in the area, however, that CEO George Tunis withdrew his company’s request.
The tests that are scheduled for September, at 16 ounces of material maximum, will only be a fraction of the size of some of the proposed Hardwire tests. They will even be smaller than the occasional FBI “battle conference testing,” which takes usually takes place at the site once a year.
“It’s really low-key compared to what we do … Yeah, you can probably hear it but it’s nothing compared to the battle conference,” said McMahon.
Even though the IEDs that will be detonated are composed of household chemicals, McMahon doesn’t expect there to be any noticeable environmental impact from the tests. He added that the FBI always cleans up any mess they cause.
“They do every time,” he promised.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley also expects minimum impact from the testing and is willing to “rely on the experts.”
“You’ve got the FBI down there,” he said. “They’re in charge of it.”
According to Shockley, IEDs are something the bureau is familiar with and he doubts that it would detonate anything that would have a lasting, adverse effect on the environmentally-sensitive area around Langmaid Road.
“They’re the FBI. If you can’t trust them, who can you trust?” he asked.
As far as noise concerns, which were a big factor with Hardwire, Shockley agreed with McMahon that these tests will be some of the smallest conducted and, while they may be heard, they shouldn’t be disruptive.
Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, who was one of the leading voices against Hardwire’s use of the site, agreed that the relatively small detonations shouldn’t cause too much damage to the environment, though she stressed that every explosion has some impact, however minor.
“Any kind of explosion is going to discharge contaminates into the air … it just depends on the size of the charge,” she said.
But even if the September tests are small, Phillips is still bothered by the fact that any explosive testing is taking place on Langmaid Road.
“It’s still discouraging that we have this site located in such a sensitive area,” she said. “The State of Maryland has certified, inspected and permitted facilities for training and testing with explosives.”
With those sites available, Phillips questioned why the FBI needs to come to Worcester County.
In defense of the testing, Shockley pointed out that today’s world is a dangerous one and people, especially local responders, need to be prepared for anything.
“Unfortunately, in this day and time, we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “It’s that type of scenario.”
Shockley noted that Worcester is located close enough to both Washington D.C. and Baltimore to be in the risk zone for an attack. The special training that the September explosives course will offer to local responders and some private citizens is more than worth any minor inconvenience produced by the detentions, he reasoned.
“Would you rather have no one trained?” he asked. “Would you rather have no one know what to do?”
The tentative dates for the tests so far are Sept. 18-20, from 1:30-4 p.m. Prior to each test, training will be conducted from 9 a.m. to noon. Training on the first two days will be held at the Fire Training Center, while the final day’s training will be held at an as yet to be determined local fire house.